Aquino calls for candidate unity against Duterte in Philippines election

Philippines votes on May 9

MANILA–Philippine President Benigno Aquino III has made an extraordinary appeal for presidential candidates in the May 9 election to unite against frontrunner Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, whom he labeled a threat to democracy.

Aquino’s call came a day after the latest national poll results were released by Social Weather Station (SWS), a social research institution. Thirty-three percent of the respondents in the survey conducted between May 1 -3 said they would vote for the tough-talking Duterte.

Tailing Duterte is Sen. Grace Poe, the adopted daughter of celebrities Fernando Poe Jr. and Susan Roces. While Duterte received the same shares of votes in the previous April 18 to 20 survey, his closest opponent, Poe shed 2% from 24% to come in at 22%.

Aquino pointed out that Duterte only has 30%. He says this means 70% of Filipinos are against him.

“Mayor Duterte has roughly 30%. That means he doesn’t have the 70%. In our democratic system, it’s the majority that decides. Therefore, it behooves everybody to try and get together,” President Aquino said on CNN Philippines.

“Instead of thinking what should we do if everything he says is exactly what he intends to do, why don’t we remove that threat or problem or insecurity by uniting the 70 and defeating the 30. The whole point is, any of two of them unites, if it’s Mar or Grace that unite, we have more than 40%. That defeats the 30%,” Aquino said.

“I am trying to get all of these different voices together and in that sense, perhaps help our candidates get together and have that united front,” the president added.

This is the first time that a sitting Philippines president has directly spoken against presidential candidate.

Benigno Aquino

Benigno Aquino

Previous leaders like Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, Joseph Estrada, and Fidel Ramos have chosen to endorse and then throw their support to a particular candidate.

The nation goes to the polls on May 9.

Incumbent president Aquino publicly questioned what kind of government Duterte will install.

Previously, Duterte has said he will declare war against criminal elements in the Philippines and vowed to eliminate crime in three to six months once elected.

He also threatened to shut Congress out if there were moves to impeach him from office.

The long-time mayor of Davao City is also being blamed for a recent slump in the Philippines stock market due to the jitters he is giving the business sector because of his lack of knowledge in economics.

Recently, vice presidential aspirant, Senator Antonio Trillanes IV has alleged that Duterte has over 200 million pesos stashed in a secret bank account. He also charged that Duterte owns properties and vehicles not declared in his Statement of Assets Liabilities and Net worth (SALN).

In the Philippines, a public official and government employees are required to annually submit their SALN to document whether  they live within the salaries and benefits appropriate to their posts. Mis-declaration under SALN is punishable under Philippine law.

Duterte admitted he has an account with the Bank of the Philippine Islands (BPI). But he contends it only contains roughly 17,000 pesos while his dollar account only holds $5,000.

Trillanes also filed a criminal complaint against Duterte for having “ghost employees” in Davao. The senator also paid for TV ads saying the that the Davao City mayor is a bad role model for Filipino youth.

Despite such attacks, Duterte has kept pulling away from his opponents.

Bloc voting

Aside from leading the surveys, Duterte also received last-minute support from an influential religious group called Iglesia ni Cristo (INC) — which boasts around 2 million voters.

INC is heavily courted by national and local candidates because the group’s followers strictly follow the endorsements made by their leadership.

Poe, incumbent bet Manuel “Mar” Roxas, Vice President Jejomar Binay and various vice presidential aspirants held separate meetings with INC leaders in the past few months.

Aquino, himself personally visited and had talks with INC leadership.

But in the end, INC chose to support Duterte and Sen. Ferdinand “Bong Bong” Marcos, the son of late dictator Ferdinand Marcos.

Administration in panic?

Roxas, Aquino’s former interior and transportation secretary called on Poe to unite with him in hopes of thwarting a government led by Duterte.

But Poe turned down Roxas’ request and maintained that she won’t withdraw from the race.

“Pwede naman kaming mag-usap anytime. Pero pangungunahan ko na, kung iniisip nila ay pag-uusap sa pag atras, ako ay hindi aatras [We can talk anytime but let me say this now, if they want me to withdraw (my candidacy), I will not back down],” Poe told reporters.

“Ngayon, kung talagang maluwag sa kanyang puso at naniniwala siya na isa ang dapat umatras para naman lumakas ang aming puwersa, bakit hindi? Desisyon niya ‘yun. Pero para sa akin, wala na kaming dapat pag-usapan [But he really believes that one of us should back out from the race to strengthen the chances of the other from winning, why not? That’s his decision. But as for me, we have nothing to talk about].”

Poe said it would be a betrayal to the public if she backs out.

She also questioned why Roxas announced his call for unity through the media when he has her mobile phone number. She says Roxas wants to put pressure on her by making it public.

“We know each other’s mobile phone numbers but he chose to send his message through the media. He probably wants to put me in a difficult situation where I would be forced to say ‘yes’ ”, Poe said.

Roxas, on the other hand, explained that he made his call public because the nation’s interests are at stake.

But Duterte’s campaign manager Leoncio Evasco Jr. said in a statement that Aquino and Roxas’ action only reaffirms their conviction that they “will not give up power and will hold on to that power to preserve the interests of oligarchy that they represent.”

Lorenz Niel Santos is a Manila-based journalist.

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